MANILA, Philippines – Did San Miguel make the right decision to bring in Shabazz Muhammad?
If head coach Leo Austria is going to be asked, the answer is a resounding yes.
Already the third Beermen import in the PBA Governors’ Cup, Muhammad proved his worth as he dragged San Miguel out of a 26-point hole en route to a stunning 115-110 win over Meralco on Saturday, March 5.
Taking over their second-half comeback, the former NBA player finished with 57 points and 19 rebounds to help the Beermen end the elimination round with back-to-back victories and notch a 7-4 record.
“[I]n our last game, he said, ‘I’m here to win a championship.’ That was something that we still needed to see. But what I saw from him was he really wanted to win,” Austria said in mix of Filipino and English.
“I’m so thankful because we unleashed the potential of Shabazz.”
Austria admitted he abandoned the X’s and O’s as he allowed the 29-year-old forward to take charge in the second half with San Miguel down big at halftime, 46-70.
The plan was plain and simple: give Muhammad the ball and let him do the rest of the work.
Muhammad did not let Austria down as he scattered 45 points in the second half: 24 in the third and 21 in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead putback and lead-extending free throws in the last 30 seconds.
“Everybody was so hesitant, tentative because of the lead of our opponents,” said Austria of his decision to put the ball in the capable hands of Muhammad. “He is out there to win games.”
“When we found out he can shoot from range, that was it. And with his athleticism, he can penetrate with a soft shot.”
Incidentally, Muhammad played his finest PBA game against the very same team that first acquired his services: the Bolts.
Meralco already announced before the conference started that Muhammad will reinforce the squad, but the former Minnesota Timberwolves standout backed out to deal with “family matters.”
In the end, it was the Beermen who managed to get Muhammad to play in the PBA as he replaced Orlando Johnson, another former NBA player.
“[W]hen I’m looking for an import, I ask the agent who is available and he was available and I said okay,” Austria said. “I asked the management and told them this guy is available.”
“They decided and worked it out. It turned out that what we thought about him is right.”
“I think we did not make a mistake in changing [our imports] because he lifted us in this game.”
Muhammad and San Miguel now wait for the results of the remaining games that will determine whether the Beermen will be rewarded with a twice-to-beat quarterfinal bonus. – Rappler.com